Warning: This post contains spoilers.
It seemed a little shabby, shuffling off the stage on a random Friday night in the television doldrums of December. But that was fitting for “Monk,” an unpretentious but consistently entertaining show with a wide influence. The spiritual heir of “Murder She Wrote,” it came along in 2002 at a time when cozy, domesticated crime shows with a comic touch were practically nonexistent; eight seasons later, as it leaves, both broadcast and cable schedules are full of them. It also walks away with a tally of 16 Emmy nominations and seven Emmys, including three for Tony Shalhoub as lead actor in a comedy.
We knew from the first episode of the show that the finale would involve solving the murder of Adrian Monk’s wife, Trudy, and Friday night’s 125th episode got that out of the way well before the closing credits. The answer had been obvious to us, if not to Monk or the San Francisco police, in last week’s show, when it was easy to see that the judge played by Craig T. Nelson was the man admitting Trudy’s murder, and ordering Monk’s, on the telephone. (And if you remembered the Season 6 finale, in which papers were found implicating someone named “the Judge” in Trudy’s death, then you knew the score as soon as Mr. Nelson’s character showed up.)
The entire handling of the Trudy mystery over the two-week finale, with Monk poisoned, “D.O.A.”-style, and his assistant, Natalie, moping by his side, felt forced and anticlimactic — as if it were an annoying necessity that had to be dealt with. And it ignored important parts of the Trudy mythology that the show had built up. Would it have been too much trouble to bring back Dale the Whale, the jailed financier who had been Monk’s main link to the case over the years?
One reason for the rush, as it turned out, was that the show needed time to introduce a new character: Trudy’s daughter, Molly, the love child she had with the judge 26 years before. She was there for closure — to give Monk a Trudy surrogate after all those years alone (don’t think too hard about that) — and to show us that yes, the demons are subsiding and he can connect with someone now. Of course we were also reassured that the endearing obsessive-compulsive quirks, like taking 600 pictures of Molly in two days, were still there.
It was predictable that a “Monk” finale might fall short of expectations, given that the producers would feel compelled to break with the formula that defined the show over the preceding 123 episodes. It would have been interesting, actually, to see what they could have done if they had treated the last episode like any other: Monk raises his finger, says “Here’s what happened,” and walks away, no muss, no fuss.
But it’s hard to argue with the notion that show’s fans needed more, and that the cast deserved a little something extra. In a sweet closing montage, we got a peek into the near future: Randy (Jason-Gray Stanford) settling into his new job as police chief of Summit, N.J.; Leland (Ted Levine) bussing his new wife, T.K. (Virginia Madsen); and Natalie (Traylor Howard) and the newly confident Monk (Mr. Shalhoub) heading off to solve a murder. Everything neatly wrapped up — just like Monk folding his laundry.